School For Dolphins
School For Dolphins
Miami Phil was solidly fat and he always wore a gaudy shirt with shorts and sandals. He wasn’t necessarily American, but because of his girth, because he was rich and flashy, everyone called him Miami Phil. He introduced himself as Miami Phil, so he must have been happy with the name. He liked his name, his food, his shirts and his money. He also had a particular liking for islands, the tropical hot sort with white sand and palm trees, not the craggy cold sort with puffins and moss on them.
So it wasn’t really too remarkable that when he bought a tropical island, he also decided to build a luxury house there, for himself, and some villas, where people could pay him lovely money to be on holiday and look at his big house and admire it, and wish they had an island with such a luxurious house to live in.
Miami Phil was always thinking about making more money. Even if he was mainly concentrating on something else, like chewing a steak, part of his mind would be idling over ideas for maybe buying his own chain of restaurants, or marketing a brand of wine. So, while he was judging his steak as a little underdone he was also concerned that there were lots of places people could go on holiday, lots of other places they might take their money. He needed something on his island that would make it better than other places. He tapped his fingers on the table and thought about it. The cutlery jangled. He had a good idea.
His island, which he had re-named ‘Little Miami,’ was home to a natural harbour. This harbour curved in from the sea, a wide curve with an hourglass waist like a 50s girlie pin-up. The water was sapphire blue and frequented by dolphins. It was a fantastic feature. People are crazy about dolphins, they will pay excellent money to see them play so close to shore. This would make Little Miami better than other holiday islands; more than better. He waved the waiter over to order some champagne, and send back the steak. Little Miami, the dolphin paradise, that’s what the brochures could boast.
While he was taking the lift up to his hotel room, he had a further idea that was super-clever. Guaranteed dolphins are the most profitable kind. No guest would be left disappointed, kicking their feet in the white fine sand under the palm trees, because the dolphins hadn’t turned up. He called a marine engineer right away.
Under the tropical sun, in the deep, clear water around the island, the dolphins got used to the people fidgeting about in the harbour where they liked to play. They were in full frolic, leaping and rolling, when a high net was pulled up across the harbour neck, and they were cut off from the sea.
They swam to the net at first, looking for the way out. They circled the edges of the water, then swam in agitated circles in the deeper water. Maybe they thought they would be killed, or would starve here; they can’t have thought anything good would come of being behind a net. Outside the net, the construction of a wall began. The dolphins swam up and down and around, and then huddled together. The engineer phoned Miami Phil to report the success. Ten dolphins neatly corralled and the wall in progress. No reason why the dolphin trainers couldn’t start right away, and get some crowd-pleasing tricks ready for the scheduled opening celebrations.
The trainers were allowed to stay in the first of the finished villas. That way, they could also report on any problems with the buildings, like if the pipes clanked or there was too much sand blowing into the hot tubs. That was the kind of attention to detail that got you repeat business, and good recommendations, although it would be the dolphins that gave Little Miami its main advantage. Guaranteed dolphins. It seemed like there were two main ways of training a dolphin, so Miami Phil had hired both sorts of trainer.
One school of thought said it was best to be strict with the animals, to give them a sardine if they got something right, yes, but if they got it wrong, to prod them with a stick. This works because dolphins don’t like pain, but they do like sardines and they work things out pretty quickly. The other school thought kindness was best, to give lots of rewards and make the tricks seem fun. This works because dolphins have a natural sense of fun, so they like to perform tricks, for the fun of it and for the sardines.
The trapped dolphins were wild, not used to being told what to do. They had lived together in the big open sea and jumped when they felt like jumping and nobody but themselves had ever told them what to do. It was true that they didn’t like pain, that they liked sardines and that they could work things out quickly. It was true that they had a sense of fun and performing tricks could be fun, especially when sardines were involved. Whether the trainers were nice or nasty, they all brought fish. The dolphins may have been suspicious, anxious and confused but they appeared to appreciate the food.
Of the ten dolphins, six seemed to adapt easily. They understood that if they jumped through the training hoops they would get fed. Sixty percent is a fine result for wild dolphins, the trainers assured Miami Phil, especially in the given timeframe for the scheduled opening celebrations. He agreed that six dolphins could make an acceptable show. They agreed to keep trying with the difficult four.
The difficult four stayed obstinate. They would not join in, not for kind words, not for the hurt of the stick, not for sardines. They were sectioned off by another net. Miami Phil did not want them released. Even if they couldn’t put on a show, they could still be exhibited, people would still pay to see them.
After a few days of this segregation, one of these four outcasts stopped his frantic pacing, and started to imitate the tricking dolphin routine, as though he’d changed his mind. He wanted to learn. Miami Phil was really pleased, because this was the dolphin that suddenly became his star performer, that did the most incredible leaps and tail balances. People would love this. This dolphin would be the one on the t-shirts in the gift shop, like a mascot for Little Miami, a living, leaping, good luck, money-making mascot. He would get his marketing team thinking of names for the dolphins. Maybe Team Miami and the Miami Star? Shame about the difficult three, being stubborn, or stupid, or whatever. Everything else was going to plan.
Miami Phil approved of the finish on his luxury house. The trainers had tested out the villas; no pipes clanked and the hot tubs on verandas did not get sand-logged. The steak he ate in the restaurant was pink in the middle, not bloody, the chips were crispy and fluffy. The seats for the Open Air Oceanic Extravaganza, and the ticket booth and the gift shop had an island rustic chic, lots of smooth wood and straw. The light and sound rigging was minimal and modern. Everything was ready for opening night. Holidays and tickets sold out really quick, and lots more money went in Miami Phil’s bank accounts. He had himself a new shirt made, just for the opening night, orange dolphins and big silver stars on a pink and purple background; you couldn’t buy one of those in the gift shop.
The synchronised team of six went first, of course, and everyone loved the show right from the start. They leapt in groups of two, then three, then all six together. They kept time with the music and the lights made the splashes all rainbow coloured. They started with simple jumps then built up the tricks, the audience was making all the right appreciative noises. Then the lights dimmed, the dolphins were still. The announcer told the crowd that the star performer would now show off some amazing skills, that, unbelievably, this dolphin had been a slow learner at first but had made inspirational progress, from the bottom of the chorus line to top billing, this dolphin was a symbol of a life turned around. Miami Phil liked the announcer’s pitch, that was clever. Inspiring symbols always sold well, that’s why so many little Buddha statues decorated gardens.
From the netted sides of the pool the other dolphins watched. From the stalls the people watched. The head trainer climbed a ladder and held out a hoop that looked impossibly high. The drum roll began, the lights focussed from water to hoop. The star of the show swam in circles, faster and faster, building up speed. A circle of waves edged the focussed light. The crowd gasped as the dolphin burst out of the water, flew up in the air, like a bullet, so fast, then flipped so neatly through the hoop, so accurate, at such speed, with such power; it was an amazing skill, the announcer did not lie. The crowd cheered. Miami Phil thought of his big fat bank accounts, the trainers thought of bigger wage packets. The dolphin played to the crowd, balancing on his tail for a full pool circuit. People were standing up, clapping, thinking this was the finale, but then the drum roll started back up. The people sat down, eager to see more. The hoop was raised; surely this height was impossible? The circle of waves charged up, just the energy of the swell was incredible to see, and the lights were beautiful, the splashes of water in all different colours, and the night sky above so warm and tropical, and suddenly the amazing dolphin erupts from the spray and jumps up, past the hoop, straight over the wall and out to sea.